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posted: 12/20/2013 5:45 AM

5 free things to see and do around Little Rock

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  • The Arkansas Governor's Mansion, where Bill and Hillary Clinton lived before he became president, offers free tours by reservation.

      The Arkansas Governor's Mansion, where Bill and Hillary Clinton lived before he became president, offers free tours by reservation.
    Associated Press File Photo

  • The Big Dam Bridge, which spans across the Arkansas River in North Little Rock, Ark., is an ideal place for walking, running or biking by the river. And it's free.

      The Big Dam Bridge, which spans across the Arkansas River in North Little Rock, Ark., is an ideal place for walking, running or biking by the river. And it's free.
    Associated Press File Photo

  • A couple strolls past The Old Mill, which was featured in the film "Gone With the Wind." Picnics and photo shoots are often held at the scenic site, one of a number of free things to see and do in Little Rock, Ark.

      A couple strolls past The Old Mill, which was featured in the film "Gone With the Wind." Picnics and photo shoots are often held at the scenic site, one of a number of free things to see and do in Little Rock, Ark.
    Associated Press File Photo

  • Pinnacle Mountain, which rises more than 1,000 feet above the Arkansas River Valley, providing hikers with spectacular views.

      Pinnacle Mountain, which rises more than 1,000 feet above the Arkansas River Valley, providing hikers with spectacular views.
    ASSOCIATED PRESS/ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF TOURISM

  • In 1957, Little Rock became the symbol of state resistance to integrating public schools when protesters backed by the governor tried to stop nine black students from entering Central High School and federal troops had to be sent in. Today the school is a National Historic Site.

      In 1957, Little Rock became the symbol of state resistance to integrating public schools when protesters backed by the governor tried to stop nine black students from entering Central High School and federal troops had to be sent in. Today the school is a National Historic Site.
    Associated Press File Photo

 
By Jeannie Nuss
Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Arkansas is nicknamed the Natural State, and its capital lives up to the moniker. There are plenty of ways for people to experience the great outdoors in and around Little Rock. Plus, many of them are free.

Armadillos and rocks

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Want to see Little Rock's namesake geological formation and maybe an armadillo? Slip on some walking shoes and head to the trails that saddle up to the Arkansas River. The trail system loops by The Little Rock and Bill Clinton's presidential center in downtown Little Rock. Farther west, walkers, runners and cyclists can pass the aptly named Big Dam Bridge and spot armadillos in Two Rivers Park. Think of Boston's Charles River Esplanade with a touch of Southern charm (and a slightly different accent). Details at arkansasrivertrail.org/.

Climb every mountain -- or just one

Pinnacle Mountain rises more than 1,000 feet above the Arkansas River Valley, and it provides hikers with a spectacular view of the surrounding area. The park has a few trails, including 1.5-mile summit trails on the east and west sides of the mountain. But those trails get a bit steep toward the top, so the fainter of heart may prefer hiking around the base of the mountain. Details at arkansasstateparks.com/pinnaclemountain/.

Historic high school

Arkansas has beautiful scenery, but it also has a history of ugly episodes in race relations. In 1957, Little Rock became the symbol of state resistance to school desegregation. Arkansas' governor and hundreds of protesters tried to stop nine black students known as the Little Rock Nine from entering Central High School. Things got so bad that the students needed the protection of federal troops to integrate the previously all-white school. Today, the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site visitor center features a permanent exhibit on the desegregation crisis. Details at nps.gov/chsc/index.htm.

As seen in 'Gone With the Wind'

The Little Rock area is no Hollywood, but it does have a bit of cinematic history. Across the river from Little Rock in North Little Rock lies the Old Mill, which appeared in the opening scenes of the film "Gone With the Wind." The Old Mill was built in 1933 as a replica of a water-powered mill from the 1800s. These days, the scenic spot is used for picnics and photo shoots. Details at nlr.ar.gov/visitor/old-mill.asp.

Clinton's old stomping grounds

Arkansas is perhaps best known as Bill Clinton's home state, so no list of tourist attractions would be complete without something related to the 42nd president. Clinton's presidential center charges admission on all but a few days, but the governor's mansion, where he and Hillary lived for years in Arkansas, is free. The mansion offers public tours on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but you'll need to call ahead to schedule one: (501) 324-9805. Details at arkansasgovernorsmansion.com/.

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